Toni Erdmann

Toni Erdmann
Toni Erdmann

Seen at Cannes International Film Festival 2016

Format: Cinema

Release date: 3 February 2017

Distributor: Soda Pictures

Director: Maren Ade

Writer: Maren Ade

Cast: Peter Simonischek, Sandra Hüller, Ingrid Bisu, Michael Wittenborn

Germany, Austria 2016

162 mins

Toni Erdmann is that rare thing: a film that makes you laugh and cry, wince and twist in your seat all at once.

Toni Erdmann is that rare thing: a film that makes you laugh and cry, wince and twist in your seat all at once. Rather than a comedy by definition, it’s a subtle drama with slow-burning humour , winding up to the punch with care and pathos that renders the punchline all the more poignant. But even more than that, Toni Erdmann is about a father who refuses to do what’s expected of him, and a daughter whose drive to be nothing like him has driven her to the verge of hysterics.

Ines (Sandra Hüller) leads a solitary life, immersing herself in work and concealing her insecurities with a cool exterior. She’s lonely and so is her father Winfried (Peter Simoneschek), who lives alone, separated from his wife and has just buried his much-loved dog. In a desperate attempt to reconnect with his daughter he creates an alter ego , complete with grotesque teeth and an unconvincing wig, and the film takes a great effort in following him on his mission to re-build their relationship. Yet, it’s not only Winfried who mounts an offensive, instead father and daughter both share an ability to make up outlandish stories about each other: she invents a whole new wife for him, he jokes about having a substitute daughter because ‘the cakes are better’, but with every knock each is making serious points about the other.

In many ways, Toni Ermann is a tragedy as much as it is a comedy and it’s down to Maren Ade’s fine direction that the film never loses its balance. There’s a great deal of wisdom to be found amongst the satiere, and a great deal of heart — although Ade stringently avoids any hint of sentimentality. The result is breath-taking, and often hilarious.

Pamela Jahn

This review is part of our Cannes 2016 coverage.

Watch the trailer:


Symptoms 1

Format: Dual Format (DVD + Blu-ray)

Release date: 25 April 2016

Distributor: BFI

Director: José Ramón Larraz

Writers: José Ramón Larraz, Stanley Miller, Thomas Owen

Cast: Angela Pleasance, Peter Vaughan, Lorna Heilbron

UK, Belgium 1974

92 mins

Spanish director José Larraz’s take on the English ghost story is beautifully atmospheric and subtly disturbing.

‘I know everything that goes on in these woods. Many things go on in these woods.’ So says Helen (Angela Pleasence), a delicate, vulnerable seeming young woman whose wide-eyed gaze seems indicative of an innocence bordering on mania. She is staying in a mansion with her friend Anne, played by Lorna Heilbron with a sharp Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby haircut. The other obvious Roman Polanski influence is Repulsion, as Helen’s feeble grip on reality begins to loosen and the story of a former friend Cora slowly unravels. All the while, Brady (Peter Vaughan), a beefy gamekeeper with Laurentian ambitions, lurks in the woods.

Spanish director José Larraz turns away from his earlier sexploitation style and produces that peculiarly English genre: the ghost story. Symptoms exists in the tradition of Don’t Look Now or, later, The Others, filled with painful memories, repressed desires and emotions and sudden messy violence. Like those films, it locates its core in human emotion and Larraz allows his characters time for their relationship to slowly evolve, as much through mutual quietness as dialogue. Both Helen and Anne need each other and there is genuine warmth, which never spends itself in lurid eroticism. This might be the beginning of a lesbian affair, or a deep friendship, or in fact both.

The gardens and woods, the river and pond are all filmed with a Kodachrome lustre, the sunlight glints from rivulets and river water dripping from dipping oars and through the branches of the trees that fragment it into shafts and yellow beams. The house itself is full of heavy furniture, but there are also mirrors that reflect the past as much as the present as well as knives and razors and an attic perfect for its very own Bertha Mason. There’s a kind of split personality to the way the camera moves as well. The meditative watching is constantly disturbed by the sudden cuts and movements, as if the eye must always search for something that just happened, a presence just departed.

As the denouement is reached, Larraz’s film confidently subverts without ever really surprising. There is a dread inevitability to the oddness that occurs and a sadness overlaying everything which mutes the horror, but also colours it effectively as if we are sleepwalking to our doom, destroying everything, including those we love, in our path. Although released as Britain’s entry to the Cannes Film Festival, Symptoms slipped away somehow and became a legendary lost film, on the BFI’s most wanted list of lost films as it happens, passed around by collectors in poor quality VHS versions. This new re-mastered print is deservedly pristine, highlighting the wonderful cinematography of Trevor Wrenn, who according to IMDb only photographed three films, all of them in 1974.

John Bleasdale

That Most Important Thing: Love

As part of our focus on Polish director Andrzej Żuławski, we take an illustrated look at his dark and moody drama The Most Important Thing: Love. Based on the novel La Nuit américaine by Christopher Frank, the story revolves around the passionate love affair between struggling actress Nadine (Romy Schneider), who earns her money starring in cheap soft-core movies, and Servais Mont, a photographer (Fabio Testi) determined to help her get her career back.

Most Important Things_1
Most Important Things_2
Comic Strip Review by Daniel Fish
More information on Daniel Fish can be found on his website.